How Pregnancy Affects Your Mental Health

Written by Dr. Andrea Potthoff PhD LP
Most of us have heard of the “baby blues,” but few of us realize the ways in which all stages of pregnancy can affect mental health. In the midst of all the congratulations, it can feel difficult to talk about and seek support for pregnancy-related mental health issues. Below are some of the most common mental health issues associated with having a baby.
Fertility Challenges
Before becoming pregnant, many women find that struggles with trying to get pregnant take a significant toll on their mood and their relationships. Fertility challenges can cause depression and anxiety. Unfortunately, stress and anxiety can reduce a woman’s chance of becoming pregnant. Relaxation and stress management are crucial skills when dealing with infertility issues.
Unexpected pregnancies can also be a source of anxiety, stress, and relationship difficulties. Even if this is a welcomed surprise, the adjustment of having a child unexpectedly can exacerbate mental health symptoms.
Pregnancy Difficulties
Once becoming pregnant, many women report a change in their psychological health. For example, while pregnant, many women experience an increase in anxiety. This is especially true if they have previously experienced pregnancy loss. Some women find that they cannot control their worries related to the pregnancy, while others report that their overall level of anxiety has increased.
A number of factors can affect mental health during pregnancy including the number of children a woman has, whether or not the pregnancy was planned, and her previous history of mental health symptoms. Some women decide to stop certain psychiatric medications during pregnancy and this can cause increased concern over mental health symptoms. Social support can be a key component for managing these symptoms during pregnancy.
Many women find that mental health symptoms start during pregnancy and continue postpartum. Monitoring your symptoms and reporting them to your physician can help you better understand how your brain reacts to pregnancy and a new baby.
Postpartum Issues
After having a baby, it takes time for your body to recuperate and this includes your mental health. With fluctuating hormones, comes a wave of possible mental health symptoms. Depressive symptoms, including low mood and loss of interest, affects 10-15% of women and can affect the mother’s wellbeing and child’s development. Despite the prevalence of mental health issues after pregnancy, screenings for depressive symptoms usually occur only once. It is not uncommon to experience suicidal thoughts during this time and suicide is actually the leading cause of maternal death.
Research also tells us that the time right after a child is born is one of the more difficult times for couples. Little sleep, new stressors, and constantly changing hormones can make navigating your romantic relationship challenging. Preparing your relationship for this change can help keep both partners on the same page.
Unfortunately, expectations around motherhood and stigma around mental health can make it hard to have conversations about how you are struggling. Seeking help from a professional is one option to consider. Therapy can offer support and skills for managing pregnancy-related mental health or relationship concerns. Please call us at 612-470-4099 or email us at to learn more.